Throughout the event, which had more than 2,500 RSVPs, according to the U.S. Postal Service, speakers honored his dedication to his work. At times emotional, they told stories that only those close to “the boy from Troy” would know and celebrated all that the Alabama native was able to accomplish. A dancer performed at the start of the ceremony, and several musical breaks were sprinkled between speakers. The crowd was encouraged to sing along at times.
And consistently during the ceremony, speakers made a call to action to encourage attendees to continue getting in what Lewis called “good, necessary trouble.”
Linda Earley Chastang, also a former chief of staff to Lewis and president emerita of his foundation, said the speed in which the stamp became available, three years and four days after his death, is a testament to the power of his legacy. Commemorative stamps are only allowed to be issued once three years have passed since a death.
She said the stamp will be a constant way to remember what Lewis did. “People will be reminded of the need to vote. They will be reminded of the need to preserve our history for the benefit of future generations,” Chastang said. “They will be reminded what courage really means.”
When the stamp was unveiled during the ceremony, many in the audience took out their phones to take pictures, and it received a standing ovation. It uses a 2013 photo of Lewis that was taken for an issue of Time magazine.
Former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell said the stamp’s ability to travel the globe will reflect the impact Lewis had.
“He’s a hero throughout the world,” Campbell said. “His commemoration with a forever stamp, I think, allows us to have something tangible that will always let us remember his incredible contributions to the fight for freedom.”
U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, who now represents Lewis’ congressional district, said the worldwide reach will reflect his vision for a “global society.” She added that she heard some were encouraged to get to the post office early this morning, due to concerns there would be lines or supply would run out.
Ronald Stroman, a member of the Postal Service Board of Governors, said the expected demand is unprecedented. “It’s a reflection on what John Lewis really meant for the country, what he achieved for the country and what he did for the country,” Stroman said. To meet demand, the Postal Service is printing 30 million stamps, a number that Stroman said is just the tip of the iceberg.
While remembering his legacy, speakers stressed the need to protect it as well. U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock said that there is an “all-out assault” against some of what Lewis achieved.
Speakers reminded those in the audience of the need to register and vote, reflecting Lewis’ advocacy for voting rights throughout his life.
Being remembered through a stamp, John-Miles Lewis said, is a full-circle moment for his father. Not only was John Lewis an avid stamp collector, which several speakers noted, but it was after he wrote a letter to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and received one in return that Lewis became civically engaged.
“That’s a journey that started with a letter,” the son said, “and a stamp.”